Bad business


The church bell rang out, signalling midday. Behind the till of Molly’s Corner Shop, the proprietor blessed herself, gently closing her eyes as she whispered the Angelus. Her arthritic fingers clutched her rosary beads and her small frame trembled. In the corner, Kate surveyed this ritual dispassionately, squinting as the sun pierced the shop’s blinds. A newspaper lay open on her lap and her reading glasses were perched precariously upon her knee. The shelves were lined by rows of jars, each identical in stature. Their contrasting colours created a kaleidoscopic effect making the damp, dingy walls dance.

The jars bulged with bullseyes, mint humbugs, liquorice allsorts, clove rock, rhubarb and custard drops, iced caramels, pear drops, strawberry bonbons and assorted toffees. One jar protruded slightly, as if, aware of its own popularity, it had jostled and bullied its way to the front. A twisted hook hung from the ceiling upon which seemingly hundreds of bills had been punctured. There was no modern cash register – instead, the coins were housed in a drawer compartment directly behind the counter while the notes were stashed away separately in an aged leather wallet beneath the counter. Like the lives of the two women, the shop had remained rigidly rooted in the past. 

They started as the door was thrown open. The ping of the bell above the door was lost amidst the rattling jars and the low heavy thud of the man’s motorcycle boots. He towered over them, easily six-foot-tall, lowering his head to avoid hitting the roof of this suddenly-cramped room.

‘Marlboro’, he demanded, in an almost impenetrable accent. Molly just stared at him, open-mouthed. Hobbling over to her friend’s assistance, Kate huddled closer to Molly, as if for protection.

‘It’s cigarettes he wants’, Kate said, her eyes fixed on the man’s massive outline, reaching for the red box above Molly’s head. The man paid for the cigarettes and walked to the door, stopping only to throw a bemused glance at Molly who still hadn’t budged. After he was gone, Molly turned slowly to her friend, mouth open and asked,

‘Not even a please or thank you. What is the world coming to?’

That was a good question. Years ago, the shop had been a focal point of the town, with people stopping simply to chat; a quarter pound of pear drops was as much a request for advice as it was for a brown paper bag, stuffed with sickly sweet confections. Molly’s advice had often been worth more to her clients than the freshly-sliced corn beef, carefully weighed and neatly wrapped in greaseproof paper. The relationship between Molly and her customers had been a reciprocal one; she had enjoyed the banter that punctuated her day to the same extent that the customers had benefited from her advice. Yet now, everything had changed. Now, the ping, which had once evoked such pleasure, often induced fear and doubt as the two diminutive figures were dwarfed by their new customers, who had no time for pleasantries or the wisdom of two old ladies.

The bell rang again, and an all-too-familiar man strode through the door. With his phone to his ear, he nodded curtly at the two women, turning away from them to continue his conversation. Holding the phone to his ear with his shoulder, he extracted a tablet from the briefcase he carried and began, as it seemed to both women, to stroke the screen in precise, rhythmic movements. Finally, the man finished the call and bent down to slip the tablet into his briefcase.

‘So’, he said, glancing upwards, ‘bad business ladies. Very bad business. The nominal rate you’ve been giving me for the past thirty-two years is no longer sufficient. Times are moving on, ladies… current climate… substantial offers…’ Molly felt the ground rising toward her; she caught only snippets of his prepared speech. Her throat tightened as she tried to swallow his parting words:

‘My solicitor will be in contact to discuss the necessary changes…’ He swept out, pausing only to incline his head in a cursory nod before striding out onto the street.

Wordlessly, they shuffled to the doorway, gazing in bewilderment at his retreating form. They stood together, side-by-side, silently observing a world they had not been born into. An icy wind swept across the dusty street and the women pulled their cardigans tightly around themselves. The same harsh coldness had infiltrated the organs of their once-loved town, spreading within it a malignant cancer of commerce.


Shane O'Neill is a writer from Ireland. His fiction has been broadcast on RTÉ Radio One and his dramatic writing has been performed at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. He is co-editor of Longitudines, an emerging arts and literary magazine. 

Header image: Unsplash.


  1. Hi my young friend. Very nice written. Wish you and Sandra good success.
    From good old Illingen Christel ans Peter


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